Issue Report: Abortion

Should abortions of any kind be permitted?

The issue of abortion is one of the most contentious, and emotive dilemmas faced by modern societies. The question is whether one should allow the termination of a pregnancy. For some, the question is even more fundamental: at what stage is the embryo or fetus in the uterus to be regarded as a child? At fertilization? At birth? Or, maybe somewhere between. The battle-lines are drawn between strict, religious (‘pro-life’) arguments (that it is never permissible), and those (‘pro-choice’) that emphasise the woman’s right to choose as the primary concern. While abortion has been legal in America since the land-mark Roe vs. Wade case in the early 1970s, this is by no means a reflection of universal agreement – either international or within America itself – as many Western countries still have considerable restrictions on abortion. For example, the Irish position has softened only recently, and the Catholic Church steadfastly refuses to change its resolutely pro-life stance in the face of criticism from Women’s and other lobby-groups. The abortion debate revolves around a number of questions. Does a woman have a right to her body that the fetus cannot take away? Does this right mean that a woman has a right to “unplug” from the fetus? Or, does the fetus have a right to life that is binding on the woman and her body and that outweighs any rights held by the woman,? Is a fetus only a fetus or is it a person that deserves rights and protections? Does “human life” begin at conception or at birth? Is destroying a fetus akin to “killing a human” or murder? The arguments surrounding these questions and others are covered below.

Woman's rights: Does a woman have a right to her body that includes a right to abortion?

  • We need to respect the rights of unborn children.
  • Children who are born deserve full human rights. It is illogical to give full human rights to babies, but no human rights to fetuses. It would be more logical to give rights to fetuses progressively over time. Embryonic life should not be used for vanity industry.
  • Sure the right of the mother should be taken into account, but so should the child. To ignore one is wrong. Women are used to only being one person. But to pretend that women cannot become two people, is to ignore nature. It may feel safe for a woman to ignore nature, if she doesn’t want to grow up, but society or parents need to prepare her for becoming responsible enough to avoid duplicating, unless she wants to. People are allowed to create life, but they are not allowed to subtract.
  • If men don’t have the right to use their bodies to harm others, then neither should women. It is unfair that women have to carry more of a burden of carrying for children, but just because life is unfair, does not give women, in a day of birth control, the right to kill their babies. Men don’t have a right to their bodies that allows them to kill babies. Men have the right to move their hands. Men have the right to kick. Men have the right to hire doctors. But men do not have a right to hire doctors to kill their children, if the mother wants to keep the baby.
  • The “dialysis” analogy is invalid; pregnancy is unique One of the most famous arguments against abortion is the “dialysis analogy” put forward by Judith Jarvis in 1971. It compares abortion to a situation in which a healthy woman (the mother by analogy) is attached to a dying patient (the fetus by analogy) in order to keep the dying patient alive. The concept is that the dying person does not have a right to the woman’s body, and that the woman has a right to “unplug” (abort) even if it means the death of the other person. The problem with the analogy is many fold: 1. A woman and a fetus have a special relationship that is incomparable to that between a woman and a stranger or even a relative. There is a special biological drive inside the mother to keep the baby alive and a dependency by the baby on the mother. The mother, therefore, has a special responsibility to keep her child alive and not abort; 2. A woman often gives a form of tacit approval to the existence of a fetus in her womb: the act of engaging in sexual behavior; 3. abortion directly kills the embryo and does not merely “unplug” and let it die. These are critical differences that invalidate a classic, central argument for abortion.

Parents must "control their bodies" or else risk being a servant of their children? Rights sometimes come with Responsibilities.

Let’s take the roof off the argument that claims that a person (and their body) has unlimited “rights not to be enslaved” as a consequence of being a parent, which was almost always the result of their of their own action (not “controlling their body,” use of contraceptives, etc.) and yet their fetus/child has no rights for care. If the principle of “enslavement” were true would it not extend to the care of a new born or older child? A new-born depends on it’s mother’s body and breast milk for the same nutrition and similar if not greater nurturing available to him/her in the womb. Can a mother, father or caretaker morally or legally neglect or “unplug” the child from nutrition and care on the “enslavement” argument? No. Does one have greater personal rights by virtue of “their body,” or can a parent provide care without “their body?” No. Can we protest that “forcing a parent to continue being a parent subjugates them to the child? Of course not. The child has a right to care from it’s parents or legal guardians and they have a responsibility to care for him or her.

The right to choice/privacy (abortion) does not override the right to life

Jesse Jackson, U.S. civil rights activist, now in favor of legal abortion, in National Right to Life News, (January, 1977) – “There are those who argue that the right to privacy is of [a] higher order than the right to life … that was the premise of slavery. You could not protest the existence or treatment of slaves on the plantation because that was private and therefore outside your right to be concerned.” Thus, even if a woman has a right to her body and to “choice”, this right is overridden by the fetus’s right to life. And, what could be more important than life? All other rights, including the mother’s right to choice, surely stem from a prior right to life; if you have no right to any life, then how do you have a right to an autonomous one? The woman may ordinarily have a reasonable right to control her own body, but this does not confer on her the entirely separate (and insupportable) right to decide whether another human lives or dies.

Women should be held responsible for behavior leading to impregnation.

If one does not want to have a baby, they should not have sex, or they should take extreme precaution when having sex. Sex is not a game. It is a serious matter of reproduction and life. If a woman plays with it and becomes pregnant, she should be held responsible to carry out the birth of her child. And, it should be noted that the responsibility could end at child-birth, with it being possible to put a child up for adoption. The consequences of an unwanted pregnancy need not be major, but they must be born by the mother and father.

A woman's rights are not the only rights that need to be respected in abortion

Of course, human-rights should be respected, but it is never the case that a person has a right to make a decision with no reference to the rights and wishes of others. There are two primary rights that must be considered in addition to the rights of the woman. First, the father has some rights over the fetus. Second, the fetus itself may have some rights. The point is merely that the woman’s interests and rights cannot be the only ones under consideration.

The scale of abortions makes state intervention compelling

Some argue that abortion is an individual moral choice that the state should not get involved with. Yet, when an individual moral choice is practiced on a massive scale, it becomes a concern for broader society and government as well.

Under a "veil of ignorance", the unborn would adopt a pro-life social contract

The “veil of ignorance” is a notion put forward by liberal philosopher John Rawls. This idea relates to the social contract people would adopt if they were effectively unborn spirits under a “veil of ignorance” regarding where they would “end-up” in life. The conclusion is that everyone would adopt a social contract that hedges against poor outcomes if they get the “short-end of the stick”. Abortion could be considered the “shortest stick” (death – no life at all), so it is likely that, under a “veil of ignorance”, the unborn would would adopt a pro-life social contract. It is notable that this social contract theory is tenant of liberal thought, and yet liberals are most supportive of abortion. There may be an inconsistency there.

Birth control is easy to obtain.

Fetus rights: Is it wrong to assign rights to the fetus? Is it not a person?

A fetus cannot have a right to a woman's body to sustain its life

No individual has rights over another individual.

Therefore, a fetus cannot be said to have an inviolable right to a woman’s body and sustenance from that body. A woman can, therefore, decide to deprive the fetus of the usage of her body (abortion).

A fetus is no more a human than an acorn is a tree

Judith Jarvis Thomson. “A Defense of Abortion”. Philosophy & Public Affairs, Vol. 1, no. 1 (Fall 1971). – “Most opposition to abortion relies on the premise that the fetus is a human being, a person, from the moment of conception. The premise is argued for, but, as I think, not well. Take, for example, the most common argument. We are asked to notice that the development of a human being from conception through birth into childhood is continuous; then it is said that to draw a line, to choose a point in this development and say “before this point the thing is not a person, after this point it is a person” is to make an arbitrary choice, a choice for which in the nature of things no good reason can be given. It is concluded that the fetus is or anyway that we had better say it is, a person from the moment of conception. But this conclusion does not follow. Similar things might be said about the development of an acorn into an oak trees, and it does not follow that acorns are oak trees, or that we had better say they are…A newly fertilized ovum, a newly implanted clump of cells, is no more a person than an acorn is an oak tree.”

A fetus is not a "person" so can't have rights protecting it from abortion:

Is terminating a fetus, which can neither feel emotions nor be conscious of its own “existence,” really be considered equivalent to killing a “person?” Some define personhood (qualifying for rights) through a set of criteria. A being need not exhibit every criterion to qualify as a person, but failure to exhibit most is proposed as disqualification. One list includes consciousness (at least the capacity to feel pain), reasoning, self motivation, the ability to communicate on many possible topics, and self-awareness. Lists like this are intended to help someone be able to objectively distinguish between a biological human and a person. An embryo is not a person because it satisfies only one criterion, namely consciousness (and this only after it becomes susceptible to pain). Other sets of criteria conclude that an embryo lacks personhood (and a right to life) because it lacks self-consciousness, rationality, and autonomy. These lists diverge over precisely which features confer a right to life, but tend to propose that they are developed psychological features not found in embryos.

The fetus causes physical pain; the woman has a right to self-defense.

he fetus causes sickness, discomfort, and and extreme pain to a woman during her pregnancy and labor. It is, therefore, justifiable for a woman to pursue an abortion in self-defense.

Potential of fetus to become a person is not sufficient

Ayn Rand – “Never mind the vicious nonsense of claiming that an embryo has a ‘right to life.’ A piece of protoplasm has no rights -— and no life in the human sense of the term. One may argue about the later stages of a pregnancy, but the essential issue concerns only the first three months. To equate a potential with an actual, is vicious; to advocate the sacrifice of the latter to the former, is unspeakable.”

If a fetus had a right to life, abortionists would be subject to murder charges

While abortionists claim that fetuses should have a right to life, they would never go so far as to charge abortionists with murder. Yet, this is what would be required if we gave fetuses a right to life. Therefore, there is a fundamental inconsistency in this position.

Human life and a right to life begin at conception; abortion is murder

Human life is continuum of growth that starts at conception, not at birth. The DNA that makes a person who they are is first mixed at conception upon the male sperm entering the female egg. This is when the genetic building blocks of a person are “conceived” and built upon. The person, therefore, begins at conception. Killing the fetus, thus, destroys a growing person and can be considered murder. Ronald Reagan, quoted in the New York Times on September 22,1980 “I’ve noticed that everybody that is for abortion has already been born.”

Life is an individual right, not a privilege, for unborn humans

Mother Teresa, in her amicus brief filed before the U.S. Supreme Court in the cases of Loce v. New Jersey and Krail et al. v. New Jersey in February 1994 – “Human rights are not a privilege conferred by government. They are every human being’s entitlement by virtue of his humanity. The right to life does not depend, and must not be contingent, on the pleasure of anyone else, not even a parent or sovereign… you must weep that your own government, at present, seems blind to this truth.”[1]

A fetus is uniquely capable of becoming a person; deserves rights

It is unquestionable that the fetus, at whatever stage of development, will inevitably develop the traits of a full-grown human person. It will also inevitably accumulate all of the rights that you yourself have. If we deprive the unborn of life via abortions, however, they will be deprived of all of this potential and future rights. This is why extending a right to life is of utmost importance; the future of the unborn depends on it.

No one argues that an acorn or even an animal fetus has a “sanctity” or rights.

No, human beings are in an entirely different class. We are called not to murder human life, not acorns. It’s not the stage of development, it’s the precious value of humans. Abortionists focus only on the early stage of development and ignore the specialness and reverence we should have for even a tiny (but growing) human life. A living, developing human fetus by definition IS a human life.

If these criteria for being a "person" are valid then killing infants is justifiable.

Infants also lack self motivation, self-awareness, rationality, autonomy, and the ability to converse on a variety of subjects.

Wanted fetuses are beloved "babies"; unwanted ones are "tissue" (inconsistent)

Naomi Wolf, feminist author and advocate of legal abortion, in "Our Bodies, Our Souls", The New Republic (October 15, 1995)

“Wanted fetuses are charming, complex, REM-dreaming little beings whose profile on the sonogram looks just like Daddy, but unwanted ones are mere ‘uterine material’?”[2]

Women can only be "pregnant" with a "child" not merely a "fetus"

This is similar to the above argument. The point is that pregnancy can only be called pregnancy and that you can only be pregnant with a “child”. Nobody would ever say, “I’m pregnant with a fetus”. Therefore, fetuses should be considered “unborn children” with correlating rights.

Fetuses, as dependents, do have some rights over their mother's body

The mother-fetus relationship is unlike any other relationship between individuals. The fetus is, without choice or by chance, dependent on its mother for sustenance and life. The mother has unique responsibilities toward the fetus in this relationship, and so, yes, a fetus has some unique rights over its mother.

Pro-abortionists dehumanize "fetuses" to get away with murder

Frederica Matthewes-Green, "Personhood of the Unborn", on National Public Radio's All Things Considered, (January 21, 1998)

“When we question whether someone is a person, it is because we want to kill him. We do this with our enemies in wartime, or with anyone we would like to enslave or exploit. Before we can feel comfortable treating others this way, we have to expel them from the human community. But there’s just no logical reason to expel the unborn.”[3]

Abortion deprives a fetus of an entire human future:

Some argue that abortion is wrong because it deprives the embryo of a valuable future. Indeed, killing any human being is wrong because it deprives the victim of a valuable future: any experiences, activities, projects, and enjoyments that they would have enjoyed. Abortion is particularly egregious because it deprives a fetus of all experiences as a human being.

The unborn are voiceless and should be protected against abortion

Ronald Reagan. New York Times. September 22nd. 1980 – “I’ve noticed that everybody that is for abortion has already been born.”[4] In other words, the unborn would all be against abortion, but, of course, they can’t express their opinion as for/against abortion. It is important to protect such a voiceless minority in society.

That the fetus may do harm to the mother cannot justify destroying it.

Even when born, a child can inflict much more physical pain on the mother than he can on the womb, his destruction is still illegal.

It is wrong to kill fetuses on the basis that they can't think/feel.

On “the fetus cant think argument”: Animal abuse, suicide and even cutting down a tree are frequently illegal on the basis that these things have some value and should not be destroyed, killed, or treated inhumanely. It has little to do with the degree of consciousness attained by a creature. If the destruction of any species with a significant value is illegal, what makes abortion any different?

Fetuses are conscious in the womb and suffer during abortions

Unborn babies have a certain level of consciousness in the womb. This is partly why mothers sometimes walk around with earphones on their stomachs. Irrespective of the level of consciousness of unborn babies, their central nervous system certainly affords them the ability to feel pain and suffer. For these reasons, they should not be aborted.

Dignity of life: Does abortion uphold the "dignity of life"?

Even if abortions "kill life", it can be justified as upholding a woman's life

Even if a fetus is considered a “baby” or human life, abortions can still be justified. The “baby” is still not a citizen with rights, while it is in the womb. In this case, the woman’s right to choose outweighs considerations of the life of the fetus. The life of the woman takes precedent over the life of the fetus. This is pro-life (pro-the-life-of-the-woman) and so respects the dignity of life.

There is no inviolable "right to life" in abortion and other cases.

It is clear that the notion of “the right to life” can sometimes be violated for certain ends. This is the case in sending soldiers to war. So as in abortion, it can be justified to kill a fetus under certain circumstances.

Hypocritical to protect fetuses, but casually wage war

Rick Claro – “George W. Bush will protect your unborn fetus, then send your grown child to die in war.”[5] This is a common argument that undermines the notion of “the sanctity of life” and the notion that it is “inviolable”. Clearly, in war, humans frequently justify killing other human beings.

In a free society, abortion is truly a matter of personal belief.

The issue of abortion debates the question of whether or not the unborn child is a human being, or at what point it becomes so. This question cannot be answered for the collective body of society, rather should be answered by the individual based on personal and religious beliefs. If an individual believes that an unborn child is a human being, then the “right to life” term can be justified by that individual for their own personal choice. If an individual believes that the unborn child is not a human being, then there is no justification for laws to prohibiting an abortion. Therefore It should be argued that this is an issue for the individual; that an individual seeking an abortion has their own responsibility to be informed thoroughly about the matter, but should never be forced to agree or disagree.

Abortion generally devalues the dignity we assign to life

Ronald Reagan, "Abortion and the Conscience of a Nation", Human Life Review, Spring 1984

“We cannot diminish the value of one category of human life—the unborn—without diminishing the value of all human life.”

Abortion sets precedent of valuing some humans less than others

Ronald Reagan, "Abortion and the Conscience of a Nation", Human Life Review, Spring 1984.

Regrettably, we live at a time when some persons do not value all human life. They want to pick and choose which individuals have value.”[7]

No one argues that an acorn or even an animal fetus has a “sanctity” or rights.

No, human beings are entirely different class. We are called not to murder human life, not acorns. Abortionists focus only on stage development and ignore the specialness and reverence we should have for even a tiny (but growing) human life.

Uncertainty over whether fetuses are "life" should halt abortions

There are strong arguments in favor of fetuses being life from conception and some strong arguments against. At a minimum, uncertainty about the “truth” should cause us to place a moratorium on abortions until we figure it out.

Human life is continuum; doesn't start/stop at conception

George Carlin, comedian – “People say ‘life begins at conception.’ I say life began about a billion years ago and it’s a continuous process.”[8] Therefore, you can’t call a fetus something other than life; it is part of the long continuum of human life and must be fully respected as such.

Abortions encourage infanticide

Ronald Reagan, "Abortion and the Conscience of a Nation", Human Life Review, Spring 1984.

“Late-term abortions, especially when the baby survives, but is then killed by starvation, neglect, or suffocation, show once again the link between abortion and infanticide. The time to stop both is now.”[9]

Abortion is murder just as infanticide is murder

It cannot be said that the abortion of a nine-month-old fetus is much different than the killing of a three day old baby. Neither then can much difference be given to aborting a nine-month-old fetus and a month-old fetus. If infanticide is murder, so too must be abortion.

Killing helpless fetus is incomparable to death of willing soldier.

How can you compare an unborn baby to the willing beings that fight in wars they have choosen the fate of going to war and the know of the harsh consquenses that may follow. A baby on the other hand is born into the world if permitted not of their own free will but of the mother’s decision to abort or have the child.

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